Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Northern exposure. I have not had time to blog much lately. Mostly this is because I wrote a big long post about the crazy lady in the Chinese restaurant who tried to tell Amanda to keep her voice down, and then Blogger ate it. Plus I've had to get a lot of magazine editing and such-like done because this weekend is our layout weekend, but Penny, Tash and I will be going to Newcastle first thing tomorrow for This Is Not Art, and thence I will be heading to Sydney, where my friend Lynda is getting married and I am going to be a broidsmaid!

I am lucky. The dress is very tasteful and my mother would undoubtedly approve. It's a rose-pink bias-cut cocktail dress with a cowl neckline, and little rose-pink beads scattered down the front. Then there are the shoes. I have been whingeing for months about the awful shoes that one of the other broidsmaids decreed we wear, but I finally found a picture of them so you can see that they are not only very daggy, but have cruel thin straps that make my foot look like a trussed-up ham and would no doubt cause hideous wounds over the day:

I couldn't find an online image of the shoes I will be wearing, but if you imagine them a dark silver colour, with a plain thing across the foot instead of the dumb triangular pieces, they look sort of like this:

Anyway, while in Sydney I will be doing all sorts of embarrassing touristy things, as well as generally having a holiday: sinking some piss, doing some shopping, catching up with people. (Please leave suggestions for what I should do in the comments.) I am really looking forward to getting out of town, as during my darker days over the last month I fantasised about jumping in my car and driving somewhere and not telling anyone where I was.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Ask Judy Blume. Generations of children have relied on Judy Blume to articulate their experiences of puberty, their moral dilemmas, and the keen humiliations of love and sex. And even though ostensibly I'm grown up, I think she has a lot to offer the manchildren and babywomen whom I call my friends and acquaintances. (She also has one of the shonkiest-looking websites on the internet.)

Issue Four of Is Not Magazine is the "Young Is/Not Free" edition, and I'm editing the letters page. Basically, we're going to answer your anguished questions in a column called "Ask Judy Blume". Why won't he or she love you back? Are you too shy or ugly? Why can't your parents let you make your own choices? Why are your friends being so mean? Is it wrong to spend all day and night touching yourself...there?

It doesn't matter whether you're fat, wearing a back brace, moving away from your friends or giving your penis a really naff name. Email your questions to Is Not Magazine and we'll publish them anonymously, along with Judy's answers, in Issue 4, due for release on 8 October.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Don't lag to the screws or I'll shiv ya in the laundry! It's International Talk Like a Jailbird Day! That's right. Ray-trace ventured in the comments to yesterday's entry that pirates might be on the way out, and whatever would replace them? Well, what's a violent group of people with a long and colourful history? Which group has gradually become romanticised, sexualised, depoliticised and aestheticised so that their continued existence right under our noses no longer poses us moral difficulties? Well, in a word, prisoners.

Damn straight, Michel! Look at how convict origins have become almost a pedigree in Australia. (Glen, you are our prince!) Look at the rise and rise of Chopper Read. Look at the critical acclaim of gritty TV dramas Bad Girls and Oz. Look at the media interest in Melbourne's gangland wars. It's only a matter of time before hipsters start holding Prisoner: Cell Block H parties. I mean, they already have hair that looks like a mean bitch attacked them with scissors, crude tattoos and pants that fall off because they have no belts.

Now for the Google Image Search:

I'll take the top bunk, thanks.

Stripes are going to be huge next season.

Gah, it's happening already!

The stocks will doubtless be a hit at the next Vice party.

Le Freak, c'est chic!

And the kiddies can get into the prisoner spirit, too!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Avast! It be International Talk Like a Pirate Day! I be kind of overrr pirates, and especially overrr the pirates vs ninjas dichotomy. But God's wounds, I do love me an excuse for a good Google Image Search. Herrre be some of me favourite picturrres.

Don't ye be gettin' literal on me arrrse!

If only Warrant had survived long enough to record a piratical-themed follow-up to "Cherry Pie"...

I think, therefore I be.

I think this were meant to be Johnny Depp...

Arrrrggghh, braiiiiins!

The horror! The horror! Jeremy... this bosom be for you, matey!

Friday, September 16, 2005

Argh: never drink tea with milk that was use-by last Sunday when you have a hangover. So last night there was beer. There was Saige. And beer. And St Jerome's. Did I mention there was beer? And then there was a bar with my erstwhile colleagues celebrating their latest circulation increase. There was beer at that bar. It was Coopers. And then there was karaoke. At Charlton's. With beer. There was Saige. Oh, there was Saige.

The DJ was that bald fat guy called Jarrod (?) whom Charlton's aficionados may recognise as the guy who likes to wow the audience with mid-90s R&B ballads and bring his girlfriends up for sappy duets. (Last night was "Endless Love".) I can't bear him because he takes karaoke seriously, like the Australian Idol judges are in the audience, whereas I do it for fun and try never to do the same song twice.

So I did "Leave, Get Out" by JoJo, which I used to know off by heart from repeatedly listening to my housemate's So Fresh: The Hits of Spring 2004 album. But I knew the tune, not the wailing parts. Only dicks like Jarrod know the wailing. However, the screen was really unhelpful on this front. No joke: at one stage the entire screen said something like this:
Wo wo wo wo wo
Oh oh oh oh oh
you and me
wo wo wo wo wo
wo wo wo wo wo

Stupid screen. I was reduced to actually saying it in a grave voice, like David Bowie repeating his sung lyrics in "Ashes to Ashes". At the end Jarrod said in the microphone, "Let's give it up for Melllll, with a rather unusual version of that song." Fuck you, Jarrod! He will never know the aching wittiness of shouting "Instrumental! Eight measures!" in a furious rock voice.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

No TV and no beer makes Mel something something. You may or may not realise by now that I am an impatient person. I am a person who needs Something to Happen. I need things to look forward to. I need things to get excited about. Today I got out of bed after a disturbing dream involving a murderous ladyboy, and it was while I was in the shower absently singing "Golden Years" by David Bowie ("don't let me hear you say life's taking you nowhere, angel!") that I realised nothing was going to happen today. It wouldn't matter what clothes I put on today, what I ate, how much productive work I did. By about 6pm I would be feeling sad and lonely and desperate because the day had been a banal one in which my life had gone nowhere and nothing had happened.

I hadn't even got dressed, and my Headtape was already maudlinly playing "Nothing Ever Happens" by Del Amitri:
Nothing ever happens, nothing happens at all
The needle returns to the start of the song
And we all sing along like before
And we’ll all be lonely tonight and lonely tomorrow
I decided to perk myself up by dancing in the living room to "Sexy Cherry" by Tools and Iba, followed by "Hombre" by MIA and "1 Thing" by Amerie. But I will require some help today. So...

Who wants to make Something Happen with me today? You should leave your suggestion in a comment.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

How smut makes me feel beautiful and normal. As I attempted to post yesterday, I get crestfallen when I tell people stuff that I think is amusing or interesting, and they are disconcerted and think I am weird and perverted. Because I am not, you see; only curious, and eternally hopeful that others will find the same things wonderful that I do. I am often disappointed. Here are some pertinent examples:

On my birthday I was having coffee with Emah and Tash. We were talking about abortion, and when the waitress brought over my coffee, I observed that the pattern in the crema on a latte looked a bit like a foetus. (I had previously likened it to an arse with diarrhoea shooting out - it's true you know - check out the next latte you drink. Mmm, tasteful.)
Emah and Tash were all, "Oh Mel! That's terrible!"
Then the waitress came back and took the latte away, apologising for bringing me the wrong coffee. And I went, "They took my bay-bee!"
And Emah and Tash burst into horrified laughter.

Last year, over dinner, I mentioned that the stereotype of witches flying on broomsticks came about because they used to make a hallucinogenic poultice from deadly nightshade. It used to make them believe they were flying. And as any coke-snorter knows, drugs are absorbed more quickly through the mucous membranes, so the witches allegedly used to apply the poultice to a broomstick which they would then use as a dildo. I thought this was quite interesting, but my dinner companions were quite appalled, and I was only able to save the conversation by pointing out the window and going, "Ooh, look - sailors!"

A couple of weekends ago, I went to a Pirates vs Ninjas housewarming party, and Jess was dressed as a pirate, complete with an eyeliner moustache. Inexplicably, she also had a Sanchez brand ukelele, which one of her friends had wittily annotated "Dirty". I said, "Jess, maybe the moustache is not the best look, given your Dirty Sanchez guitar." Jess laughed; but when I was telling this anecdote to Indymedia Andrew last Wednesday, he just looked at me blankly. I had two sinking revelations: first, that I was going to have to tell him what a Dirty Sanchez is; and second, that he was going to think less of me for it. He looked kind of appalled, and then I decided to dig the hole deeper by asking if he knew what an Angry Dragon is. After that, he looked even more appalled.

It troubled me that Indymedia Andrew, whom I had taken for an unflappable Humpty kinda guy, might think I was a pervert. So when I saw him on Friday night, grazing on antipasto in the second gallery into which I had walked, drunkenly chuckling to myself (I'd had four beers with Elaine before even making it to the party), I decided to redeem myself by telling him the witch anecdote. He regarded it as interesting rather than shocking.
"See, a normal person like you doesn't freak out!" I said.
He looked thoughtful. "That's perhaps the first time someone's described me as normal," he said.
Damn. I can never speak to him again. The hole will just get bigger.

I was feeling very crestfallen indeed. Until Monday. I was browsing in the Melbourne University bookshop and bought, very inexpensively, The Fermata by Nicholson Baker. The blurb describes it as an "altogether morally confused piece of work". "My god; that's a dirty book!" said Jeremy when I said I was reading it. But I don't think it's dirty at all. Instead, so far I have found it a complete affirmation of my own desires and my own world view.

Basically, it's about a 35-year-old guy, Arno Strine, who has the power to pause time, an ability he uses to undress women and play unseen erotic roles in their lives that to them, appear serendipitous. What strikes me is Arno's attention to women. He observes in a way that I have always assumed most men - and most people in general - don't.
I think too, in all modesty, that I have an unusually good instinct for detecting when an average-looking woman senses herself entering a new phase of attractiveness. I can detect better than others when a woman feels that she is looking unusually good that day, or when something like a new haircut, or the discovery of a stor that has the kind of clothes that she looks best in, reminds her of the fact that romance and flirtation are part of life, too.
But interestingly, Arno doesn't find women attractive in the same way they see themselves: he can find women attractive in as many ways as there are women. He has no fetish - each woman becomes her own fetish - because there is something uniquely alluring about her; something that she herself might not consider attractive. It might be her hair; the way she wears her clothes; the backs of her knees; the tone of her voice.

I found this incredibly heartening. I minutely scrutinise my own body and those of other people. I find them fascinating and beautiful and ugly. I could tell you small details I loved about you that you might never have noticed, or thought nobody did but yourself. Conversely, I feel my body betrays me in so many ways: not only by its aesthetic failings when subjected to the scrutiny of others; but in its invisibility in the ways women are supposed to be visible. I've felt as though it didn't matter whether I straightened my hair or left it messy; wore glasses or contacts; even bothered about what I was wearing, because nobody ever notices these things. And yesterday, after I had decided I looked much prettier with contact lenses and would wear them exclusively from now on, my friends all said I looked better with glasses. I can't tell you how this crushed me: that I look better with something obscuring my face; that there is such a disjuncture between my own judgment of the circumstances in which I look best and that of other people.

So anyway, I was reading The Fermata on Monday night and gradually filling with a slow, sweet, fragile feeling that, yes, people do notice and are affected by the physical presence of others in the same way I am, and yes, it's possible that I am an attractive woman and not just words on a computer screen or a mobile phone. But above all, I was pleased and relieved that someone else, even a fictional character, is full of 'inappropriate' thoughts and desires, and finds a way to put them in action (albeit magically). At one stage, Arno muses about the unromantic sight of his hairy balls:
I couldn't help noting to myself with some satisfaction how surprisingly spermatious the ball-hairs themselves appeared, with their long wispy tails and their ovoid follicle heads: hair-sperms surrounding the egg-like testicles, trying to fertilize them, as if my body were offering to anyone who cared to look its own magnified, three-dimensional representation of the task that my gonads were programming their product to perform.
Is that not the most perfect image? I have so many similar thoughts that I feel unable to tell anyone: whether it's because it frightens away new acquaintances, alienates friends or freaks out potential sexual partners. And it was just so heartening that I am not alone in this. As Arno says, "So much depended, of course, on how you presented the information - a tone of self-surprised irrepresentability often worked best." And when he finds someone who isn't shocked by him, he says, "God, how I treasure those little flirtatious moments." Indeed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Shame, humiliation, and embarrassment! Lately I have been paranoid that others consider my thoughts weird and perverted, and I should probably just keep them to myself. Now, I've already gestured towards the discursive uses of 'appropriateness' and 'relevance', and the need to challenge them, but now I want to consider the affects of inappropriateness. I am aware of Elspeth Probyn's work on this front, but it really frustrates me that I no longer have access to university library resources, so I can't study it in the detail I would like.

Here is what I believe to be the vernacular understanding of the difference between shame, humiliation and embarrassment. Shame is about the violation of hegemonic moral codes (which are unstated, but socially understood to be consensual) by a person or group. Humiliation is a technique of deliberately subjugating a person or group by violating their dignity, and is often used as a political or military weapon (think mandatory detention, Abu Ghraib, etc). Embarrassment concerns lighter social gaffes and violations of decorous comportment.

For example, yesterday I was in this posh shoe shop and as I was about to walk out the door I saw my exact handbag in the window display. Thus mesmerised, I failed to notice that the glass door was closed, and thank god I was wearing pointy shoes, because the point of my shoe hit the door before my face did. And everyone would have known that I only hit the door because I was vainly looking at my own handbag! But it speaks volumes about how much better I am feeling now than two weeks ago, because I started laughing instead of running away feeling mortified, and the story ended up as an amusing anecdote over beers with Saige, Patrick and Chloe.

Using Icelandic saga poetry as his example, William Ian Miller distinguishes between the states and feelings of shame by describing an economy of shame. Society may designate someone or something as being shameful, and the morality of this person, object or act is socially negotiated by the degree to which they reciprocate by feeling ashamed. It is often represented as the 'correct' affective response by these shameful people, and the absence of this affect is shameful in itself (eg: "You ought to be ashamed of yourself", "Shame, Australia, shame!"). Think about how Schapelle Corby's tears and puffy red face embody the affect of shame, making her Australia's darling.

Conversely, I had a whole chapter in my bogan thesis about how Shane Paxton's long hair, symbolising his refusal of a job from A Current Affair, embodied the state of shamefulness, but that Paxton and his siblings never felt ashamed. (I didn't mention, although it might at least have warranted a footnote, about how Paxton's first name coincidentally echoed the word 'shame'. I can't remember now if any media coverage picked up on this - subs are usually quite alert for such serendipities.)

It is considered socially acceptable, even over-sensitive, for someone to feel unintended shame, humiliation or embarrassment, but it is a major failing for individuals to be unaware or defiant of attempts to shame, humiliate or embarrass them. I am largely interested in shame and humiliation because I want to examine why I am so easily humiliated myself. As a child, I used to feel so vicariously humiliated for characters on TV that I would run from the room. I am also one of those people who peeks through my fingers and lets out involuntary cries of "oh no!" at the cinema, as Saige may recall from the time we went and saw Sideways.

But more to the point, I am capable of feeling humiliated when no deliberate attempt to humiliate me has taken place. This is a deeply affective, embodied reaction: often, the mere memory of some long-ago humiliation is enough to make me blush, cringe or shiver. The trouble is that this dissonates with my comparatively non-existent sense of shame. I value straight-talking and willingly share my thoughts with others, even if others might consider them shameful. This was actually going to be the subject of this post, but I've gone down a productive tangent - you'll realise that I am prone to tangents both in my casual conversation and in my thinking and writing, but as Ellen DeGeneres entitled her autobiography, there is always an underlying point to my tangents, so I feel it's productive to be patient and wait for their relevance. I think I'll actually return to my original point in my next post.

But then when I think back over my shameless words and acts, I feel terribly humiliated. For example, a while ago I told that boy who rejected me recently that when I thought about him, I smelled my fingers. He thought this was a hilarious bon mot. Here's the dissonance: he had thought our conversations had reached a phase of jocular, meaningless sexualised banter; but I was telling him that his previously expressed interest in me was reciprocated. And when I found out that the boy was not after all attracted to me and in fact had actually been pursuing other girls all the time I had imagined him pursuing me, I realised what an appallingly misjudged thing this was to say, and I felt terribly, terribly humiliated.

How he must have basked in the flattery of my overtures, knowing all the time that he was not going to do anything at all about them! How gauche I was to say what I thought and wanted! It was not just this one comment, you see ... there were many more comments and actions which, when piled upon each other, created an almost unbearable feeling of burning humiliation in me. Even tears and alcohol could not douse it, and no doubt I will still feel its residual warmth for years to come.

The only way in which I can recuperate my humiliation is to turn it into an amusing anecdote that elicits laughter or sympathy. (However, some of my humiliations are so deep-seated that they will never be funny, and I have never told anyone about them.) But interestingly enough, this will only work if the story gets the right affective response. When I told Stuart about the Finger-Sniffing Incident, he made a strangled sound, hung his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. Jeremy needed it explained to him, but after that he just said, "Jesus!" Tash laughed and clapped like a spastic, which was my favourite response.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Mel's sordid musical past. Earlier today I was listening to a 1991 compilation CD entitled Kool Skool, which has been cheering me up no end. Right now "Do the Bartman" is playing. Anyway, I was googling "whatever happened to ya kid k" and came across an old Supermercado Project post, which I remember enjoying vastly at the time. In this post, Adam asks:
Who was the Jive Bunny? Would you own up to it if you were? And just how much money would he/she/it actually have made given that all the royalties would have been going elsewhere and I’m sure they didn’t dress up in bunny suits and play ‘live’ gigs anywhere. Farcical.
Well, Adam, I've got news for you. I was the Jive Bunny!*

Search your feelings; you know it to be true!

Back in those days, I was just a naive young girl who enjoyed shouting "C-c-come on everybody!" with an insane grin on my face. I also had a talent for gyrating to rock'n'roll classics as if I were wiping my arse on an imaginary towel while brandishing cocktail frankfurts impaled upon my thumbs. A trio of Svengali producers discovered me doing my thang at the Billabong family restaurant in Doncaster.

As the face of Jive Bunny, I was hurled into a maelstrom of recording sessions, TV tapings, nightclub and mall appearances, and of course, marathon dance classes (it got pretty fucking sweaty inside that bunny suit, I can tell you). Tough work. I used to get mobbed when I did instores at Brashs and the Virgin Megastore. And we had sold-out live appearances at the Royal Melbourne Show and the Swagman in Ferntree Gully. That was before it burned down, of course. I had nothing whatsoever to do with that...

My buddies were the costumed luminaries of the day, and we had some fun times. Me and Marty Monster used to get blitzed and ride our BMXs to the Dandenongs, where we'd shoot our AK47s at random trees. Marty explained the finer points of remote-controlled car racing and warned me to stay the fuck away from kangaroos. Then there were the forties and blunts aboard Humphrey B Bear's yacht. One time I spewed in my bunny head, and Humphrey clapped his hands spastically and then held them in front of his mouth. Plus, I had a torrid interspecies affair with ambiguously gendered TV superstar Fat Cat. It was a real eye-opener for an eleven-year-old.

A rare photo of me in the studio, putting my signature "C-c-come on everybody!" a little higher in the mix.

But it wasn't all long ears and fluffy tails. I had beef with the Wilderness Society koalas. They were sick of campaigning to save Australia's precious natural resources and only getting mockery, abuse and sexual harassment, whereas I got sexual harassment, plus truckloads of cash, merely for gyrating to a shonky megamix. The cheek of it: getting resentful at me when they were the ones with costumes so saggy they looked like they'd been dipped in napalm. Some advertisement for the environment!

Just after our second single "That's What I Like" came out, I was headed for an appearance at Karingal Hub. I was getting into my limo when the stench of eucalyptus hit me and I was surrounded by four matted-looking koalas wielding plastic buckets in a menacing fashion.

"So kid, you think you're really somethin'," said one. "But we don't care for your fancy American antics."
"And we own this fuckin' town, so when we don't care for shit, you better start caring," chimed in another koala.
"You best believe we got koalas in high places, and we gonna get native on yo' ass!" said a third.
"Yeah man, fuckin' introduced pest!" added the fourth, for good measure.

"Jam it, Blinky," I said. "Sampled retro megamixes are here to stay! Now if you'll excuse me, the good people of Frankston are crying out for a Chubby Checker impersonation."

"C-c-come on mami, what you say we swing the mood? I got twenty-fo' carrots!"

Pissing off the koalas was really my downfall. Record sales fell dramatically. I had been receiving $500 a week salary as Jive Bunny, an astounding amount in the days when $2 could buy a mink-blowing amount of lollies at the local milk bar. But I soon found out that my producers had frittered away my money buying superseded Communist fighter jets in Turkmenistan, breeding super-intelligent bionic geese, and financing paramilitary decoupage organisations in Nebraska. This left me with no option but to return to Grade Six, where my absence had gone almost completely unnoticed. However, my Victorian Cursive Script had deteriorated to near-illegibility, and I had missed the crucial pedagogy of long division, a mathematical technique that remains a mystery to me to this day.

* Jive Bunny was actually the creation of British producer Andy Pickles, his dad John, and DJs Ian Morgan and Les Hemstock. The John Anderson Band recreated the Glenn Miller samples to avoid paying royalties. The rest of the samples are a hodge-podge of original artists and studio musicians.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Another fairytale - the unexpected sweetness. Another one of my favourite fairytales came from a book I bought at a primary school fete many years ago. It was called "Cap O' Rushes", and according to this awesome website, it's an English folk version of a story that's told across Europe and even in northern India, and turns up in a modified form in King Lear. Here's my version. Note that I am slipping into 'fairy-tale language', which in itself is an interesting concept. It has a certain rhythm and vocabulary, doesn't it?

Once upon a time, there was a king who had three beautiful daughters. The eldest had raven-dark hair and piercing blue eyes like sapphires. The middle daughter had rich auburn hair and green eyes like sparkling emeralds. And the youngest had blonde hair like spun gold, and pale grey eyes like diamonds. The king was growing old, and thought to divide his kingdom among his daughters. So he called them to him.
He asked the eldest, "How much do you love me?"
"As much as the sun!"
Pleased, the father asked the middle daughter, "And my dear, how much do you love me?"
"Why, as much as the moon and the stars!"
Tenderly, the father turned to his youngest child, who was secretly his favourite. "And how much do you love me?"
"I love you as fresh meat loves salt," she replied.

Enraged, the father banished her from his kingdom. She took with her three of her fine dresses, which she reasoned she could sell for their fine fabrics and embroidery. But having no outer garment, she wove herself a rough hooded cloak from the rushes that grew in the nearby marshes. And in that covering, she entered the kitchens of the neighbouring king's palace. Pleading that she had nowhere to go, she asked for a place to stay. The shrewd cook looked her up and down.
"We have all the servants we need," she said.
"Please," begged the princess, "I'll do any work you want."
"Well, we could do with a scullery maid to scour the dirtiest pots," said the cook. "You'll find a bed of straw in this hut in the yard."

So she became a maid, and her beautiful royal hands, which had never seen a day's work, became raw, rough and reddened from scrubbing pots. Because she always wore her strange cloak, the servants nicknamed her "Cap O' Rushes", and because she refused to speak of her life or joke with the others, she became an outsider.

Her only consolation was at night. She would light a candle in the rude hut that served as her bedroom, put on one of her beautiful gowns, and brush out her long golden hair, singing all the while. One night, the prince of the realm happened into the yard, where he heard a beautiful voice singing a sweet and sad melody. Peeking through the window, the prince saw the most beautiful woman he'd ever laid eyes on, wearing a dress of golden satin and brushing out her lustrous hair. He fell instantly in love with her.

The next day, the prince excitedly told his father that he had found the woman he wished to marry.
"Well, who is she?" said the king.
"I don't know," replied the prince.
The wise old king thought for a moment. "Let us hold a grand ball, and send messengers far and wide to tell every noble house," he said. "If this girl is as fair as you say, she must be of high birth and will certainly be there."

Well! News of the ball put the kitchens into a frenzy. But Cap O' Rushes seemed strangely uninterested in the impending ball. She scrubbed her pots and said nothing. When the other servants asked if she cared to watch the festivities, she yawned.
"I'm much too tired," she said. "I'll just go to bed."
But after everyone had left, she hurried to her hut, donned one of her dresses, washed her face, brushed out her hair, and braided it in a coronet. Then she went to the ball.

Every head turned at her beauty and the brilliance of her gown, which was of gold satin like the sun, with embroidery of gold thread like the sun's rays. The prince instantly spotted her, and refused to dance with anyone else for the entire evening, although he was curious that her hands were so rough; very unlike a noblewoman's. But she left early, and was back in bed, wrapped in her rush cloak, before the ball was over.

The next day, everyone could talk of nothing but the mysterious woman at the ball.
"What a pity you were asleep, Cap O' Rushes!" said one of the kitchenmaids.
"I should have liked to have seen her," said the princess.
"You still may!" replied the maid, "for the Prince has fallen madly in love with her, and the King has decreed another ball tonight!"

Naturally, there was plenty of work to do, and the kitchens fell to it. At the end of the day, Cap O' Rushes again complained of weariness, and went to bed in her hut. But secretly she braided her hair and donned her second dress, which was of black velvet like the night sky, with a moon embroidered in silver thread and studded with jewels like stars. When she entered the ballroom the company hushed, and the prince stepped joyously to her side once more. They danced every dance together, but again she made excuses to leave early, and was back in her hut before the ball was over.

The King decreed a third ball the next night, and Cap O' Rushes again refused to go, feigning tiredness, but brushed out her long golden hair and donned her third dress, which was of shimmering white silk, encrusted with diamonds so that it sparkled in the light. Her grey eyes, too, shone like diamonds. When the prince saw her, he thought his heart with burst from love. He held tight to her hand to prevent her from running away, and implored her to tell him her name. But she simply smiled and was silent.

"I shall die if I never see you again!" cried the prince. He kissed her rough hands, and slipped a diamond ring onto her finger. But she managed to slip away from him, and was back in bed, wrapped in her rush cloak, before the ball was over.

The next day, the kitchen servants chided Cap O' Rushes for not going to the ball, because there would be no more and she had missed her chance to see the prince's mysterious belle. Meanwhile, the prince made all manner of enquiries about the identity of his love, and sent messengers far across the land, but nobody could solve the mystery. The prince grew sick with love, and took to his bed. He refused to eat, and was close to dying.

"Let me make him a bowl of gruel," volunteered Cap O' Rushes.
"What - serve common gruel to the prince of the realm?" scoffed the cook.
Cap O' Rushes merely nodded. "I have seen this gruel cure sickness that no medicine could treat."
The cook reasoned that, as the prince wouldn't eat anything, it would do no harm to offer him the gruel, so she allowed Cap O' Rushes to make it. As the princess stirred the gruel, she thought sadly of how she could never reveal herself to her beloved, and three salt tears dripped into the gruel. Her eyes were so full of tears that she didn't notice the diamond ring slip from her finger and fall into the bowl.

The cook brought the bowl of gruel to the prince. "Any news of my beloved?" he said weakly.
"No," said the cook, "but I have brought you a bowl of gruel to help you regain your strength."
At first the prince refused to eat, but the gruel tasted unexpectedly good, and he finished the entire bowl. Upon discovering the ring at the bottom, he sent for the cook.

"Who made this gruel?" he asked.
Alarmed, the cook said, "I did, sire."
"No you didn't," replied the prince. "Don't be afraid to tell the truth."
"Well, 'twas our scullery maid, whom we call Cap O' Rushes."
"Send her to me."
And when she arrived in the prince's bedchamber, she doffed her cloak of rushes, revealing her beautiful gown.

Well! News of the impending wedding put the kitchen into a frenzy. Hunting and fishing parties were sent to track down boar, venison, salmon, pheasant and peacock! Sloe-eyed diplomats made gifts of sweetmeats from the far East! Rosy-cheeked maids prepared herbed vegetables from the palace gardens, and pies of every description! Pages were dispatched, huff-puffing, to the cellars to retrieve the king's finest wines and ales. But the bride commanded that two feasts be prepared - one containing salt, and one without.

All the nobles from across the land attended the wedding, including the princess's own father and her two sisters. The princess wore her white silk dress - it was suitable for a wedding, after all - and a necklace and coronet encrusted with precious diamonds. She was so beautiful that even her own relatives did not recognise her. The guests sat down to the splendid feast, but soon murmurs of complaint spread throughout the hall.
"It's so bland!"
"The impertinence of inviting us to such a mean banquet!"
"These dishes have no taste at all!"

But the bride's father burst into tears. "Once I had a daughter," said he, "who told me she loved me as much as fresh meat loves salt. I thought she didn't love me, but now I see she loved me best of all! And I'll never know what became of her!"

With that, the bride threw her arms around him and kissed him, crying, "Here I am, father!" Everyone burst into cheering and crying. Even the two elder sisters were in tears. And with that, the cook brought out the second feast, seasoned with salt. Everyone ate their fill, and lived happily ever after.

What I like about this story is that sometimes, the sweetest things in life are not sweet at all, and the things you take for granted turn out to be the most precious. And with that, I'm going to have another cup of tea.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Goose Girl and other escapist fantasies. One of my favourite fairytales as a child was The Goose Girl by the Brothers Grimm. I have dear memories of reading it whenever we went to my grandmother's house, in a bumper hardback collection of fairytales retold by Jane Carruth. I saved this now-tattered book when my grandmother was shamefully incarcerated in a nursing home several years ago. In the tale, a fair and gentle princess sets off to marry the handsome prince of a neighbouring kingdom. Before she leaves, her mother the queen gives her a talking horse called Falada, and a small white handkerchief on which are three drops of the queen's own royal blood. "Keep this handkerchief always," says the Queen, who loves her only daughter. "As long as you have it, you will come to no great harm."

The queen sends off the daughter accompanied by a maid who is astonishingly rude to the princess. The handkerchief whispers, "Woe is this; if your mother knew, it would break her heart." Eventually the princess is forced to get herself a drink of water because the maid won't do it, and she drops the hanky in the stream, where it disappears from sight. Then the maid laughs triumphantly, saying, "Now you are completely in my power!" She forces the princess to exchange clothes with her and ride on her nag while the maid rides on Falada, threatening to kill the terrified princess if she says anything to anyone. They ride into the neighbouring realm where the maid passes herself off as the princess, and the real princess is relegated to helping out Conrad, the royal goose-keeper.

Worse, the false princess has Falada killed because she knows he can talk. But when the real princess finds out, she weeps bitterly. She pays the knacker a gold piece to nail the horse's head to the city arch, so she can see it every day as she passes underneath to guard the geese in the fields. The princess sees the head and says, "Ah Falada, how unhappy I am!" And Falada answers:
Alas, young Queen, how ill you fare;
If this your mother knew,
Her heart would break in two.

Conrad looks at her very strangely after this. Out in the fields, she unbraids "her long golden hair, which was as fine and beautiful as spun silk." Conrad is fascinated and asks for a strand. The princess refuses, but before he can pluck one himself, she starts singing:
Blow, blow, gentle wind, I say;
Blow Conrad's little hat away.

And Conrad duly has to go chasing after his hat. That night, he goes to the wise old King and tells him everything. The king decides to follow the two of them the next day, and observes Falada saying his little poem, and Conrad being forced to chase his hat. That night, the king sends for the goose-girl and asks her why she acts so strangely.
"Alas, kind sir," she cries, "I dare not tell you, for I have given my solemn promise never to speak of what has befallen me to any human being."

The crafty king persuades her instead to tell her sorrows to an old iron stove; and while she's pouring her heart out with her head inside the stove, the king puts his ear to the pipe and hears everything: "No one in the whole world can help me," sobs the princess. "Yet I am truly a Queen's daughter, a Princess by royal birth, who must stand aside and watch a cruel and treacherous serving-maid, robed in my own gowns, take my place. I cannot break my solemn word so I must remain forever a goose-girl."

The next day the princess finds a splendid gown of shimmering satin laid out instead of her rags. When she's all dressed up, with jewels in her golden hair, the king leads her to the great banqueting hall. By way of conversation, the king asks the false princess, "What would you do to a girl who betrayed her mistress and was ready to steal her mistress' husband?"
"Why, I would have her head cut off," cries the false princess, adding for good measure, "And I would throw it to the dogs."
"You have spoken well," says the king, and the false princess is promptly dragged off to the dungeons. The true situation is explained to the prince, who naturally is dazzled by the princess's beauty. They are married the next day, "and were happy together for the rest of their lives."

Reading this story now, the princess seems like a bit of a sap, and the serving maid like someone who simply knows how the world works and is trying to make the best life she can within the feudal class system. There is a weird, distastefully eugenic idea of 'royal blood' being intrinsically more noble and worthy: the handkerchief, the way the blonde princess is both beautiful and good, and the way only the king can solve the mystery. And it's also strange that it is the old king, and not his son, who is the agent of the princess's salvation.

But I don't care about any of that. This is the same kind of fantasy that has sustained generations of women. In this story, women are thrown on the mercy of an uncaring world, but are rescued from their own unhappiness by latent and 'special' qualities that can only be identified by men of sufficient intelligence, charisma and tenderness. The funny thing is that I identify with the goose-girl in this escapist fairytale even though in real life I am not the goose-girl. I am the resourceful maid who, lacking nobility and beauty, is forced to pretend to be someone she isn't in order to win love, and is punished for it in the end. I want to believe men can recognise my special, hidden attractions; but even the most brilliant and sophisticated man will only cherish these qualities if a woman is also beautiful.

It's funny how when a beautiful woman cries, when she says, "How unhappy I am!", people's hearts swell with sympathy, but when an ugly woman cries, her fat face wobbles and puckers and goes blotchy and people look away and wish they - or, more precisely, she - were somewhere else. I am grieving for my own stupidity. I was seduced by the idea that the boy was attracted to me; now I realise that he was only attracted to the idea of me: the maid dressed up as a princess. And do you know what? He must be feeling such relief at his narrow escape from entanglement with this crazy bitch who can't stop crying. That is what makes me saddest.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Another flashpost: Only extreme drunkenness will help, I think. I had two t-shirt slogan ideas this week:

Sorry if you can't make them out; I probably should have saved them as gifs but it didn't give me the option so I saved them as jpegs. Also, I laid out the text in about five seconds so don't give me any of that "Well I'd like it if you used another font/design". Actually, would you wear a t-shirt that says "Nobody else likes my t-shirt slogans"?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Flashpost: More wisdom from David, the Dating Tips asshole.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Site Meter